Meros is back on this season’s Biz Buzz Japan on NHK World. This time Meros’ Global Markets director Lucia Vancura discusses the Japanese green tea industry and export marketing challenges with tea expert and certified tea instructor Oscar Brekell, and host Jon Kabira.

Green tea exports from Japan have doubled over the past decade to over 4000 MT, a bright spot for an industry whose domestic production has been falling.  The domestic Japanese green tea industry faces an aging and shrinking population of tea farmers, as well as Japanese consumers who have endless choices of beverages

Exports of Japanese green tea were driven initially by the growth in sushi and Japanese restaurants overseas over the past decade. The healthy image of green tea with its high anti-oxidants also boosted its popularity. Top tea export markets for Japan are the US, Taiwan and the EU-tea processing hub, Germany. Not only green tea leaves and bottled tea, but matcha (green tea powder) also has  become increasingly popular as a flavoring for desserts, from ice cream to cakes.  Now fruit-flavored green tea beverages and green tea lattes can be seen in cafes and convenience stores across the world.

Green tea and black tea both come from the leaves of the same plant (camellia sinensis), but then undergo different processing.  For Japanese green tea, the leaves are harvested three times a year, then quickly steamed, crushed and dried, retaining the green color and original fragrance.  Many other countries, including China, Vietnam and Taiwan also produce green tea, but through a slightly different process that usually includes panfiring, rather than steaming the leaves. Due to the differences in processing, as well as the different climates and cultivars, tea leaves from different areas have distinctive flavors. Japanese green teas are often described as “grassy” and “mellow”.

Japanese green tea exporters face various challenges in international markets for various reasons, including low consumer familiarity with Japanese green tea, regulatory barriers related to agrochemical registration, as well as the high price and relatively low volumes available for export. In overseas markets, although green tea itself is increasingly common, there is often no reason for a bottled tea manufacturer or a lemon-flavored green tea product to use expensive Japanese green tea as a raw material. These manufacturers need large volumes of affordable green tea leaves. Cheaper tea leaves from China, South America or elsewhere are usually substituted.

The key for Japanese green tea producers, who are typically small family farms, is understanding the needs and interests of overseas consumers. What kind of packaging is attractive – dry leaves, bottles, or ready-to-drink tea bags?  Do people buy tea at cafés or supermarkets? Inspiring people to become interested in the characteristic flavor of Japanese green tea, compared to other green teas, may be the best way to convince consumers to pay the higher prices that Japanese green tea requires.

This NHK BizBuzz episode discusses issues in the green tea industry and highlights some creative ventures in the domestic market to attract younger and new consumers. These include cold-brewed green tea packaged and served like high-end wine and flavored Japanese green tea.

The episode is broadcast on NHK World throughout June and is available online on demand until July 21st.  NHK World is available around the world on cable as well as streaming online.